Northrop faked tests of GPS systems, whistle-blower suit claims
An employee of defense giant Northrop Grumman Inc. claims in a lawsuit that the company’s workers repeatedly took risky shortcuts and faked tests of navigational systems made for use in military fighter jets, drones and submarines.
Todd Donaldson, a longtime Northrop employee, says in his suit that the company sold the GPS systems to the Pentagon without performing a key test to ensure that they properly communicated with satellites.
Without that test, he said, there was “a grave danger of erroneous navigation, leading to crashes and weapons failing to hit their targets.”
Northrop declined to comment. “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on cases or issues in litigation,” said Randy Belote, the company’s vice president of strategic communications.
Donaldson did not name any accidents that occurred because of malfunctions of Northrop’s navigational device known as the LN-100.
But in May 2011, Air Force investigators blamed the LN-100 for a crash of a Predator drone carrying a Hellfire missile in the north African Republic of Djibouti.
The investigators said the device recorded the drone’s altitude to be 400 feet higher than it actually was.
The crew, piloting the craft remotely, failed to see the problem, the investigators said, before the Predator flew into the ground.
The lawsuit was filed under a federal whistle-blower law that allows those who expose government fraud to keep part of any resulting financial settlement.
Donaldson filed the lawsuit two years ago but it was sealed from view of the company and the public until last week.
On Friday, Judge David Nuffer of U.S. District Court in Utah ordered the complaint unsealed after the federal government declined to join the case. He said the government can still decide to intervene.
The lawsuit was first reported by the Salt Lake City Tribune. Neither Donaldson nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
Northrop’s division in Woodland Hills has sold thousands of the LN-100 navigational systems to the Pentagon and foreign customers.
The GPS system at issue is used on a myriad of military aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor and F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets, as well as the Predator and Northop’s own Global Hawk drones.
Donaldson said he worked his way up to the position of plant manager at Northop’s facility in Salt Lake City, where the navigational systems are assembled and tested.
But he was demoted, he said, after he complained that employees were faking tests of the devices.
Rather than performing the required 10-minute test, Donaldson said, employees were saving time by skipping the test and indicating in paperwork that the device had passed.
He said that he alerted Glenn Kemp, his supervisor, and Ken Bishop, a human relations executive, about the problems, but plant employees continued to “manually insert spurious data causing a ‘pass’ reading.”
Follow me on Twitter @MelodyPetersen